Oh, drat. I finally get a day off to fish and the fish won't bite! Our head guide, Jim Kukorlo, tells us what he does when this happens. (now we all know his secrets....)
What Does a Guide do When the Fish Aren't Biting?
This might sound like a tough question to answer. But it is a situation that I do find myself in from time to time. Not only when I'm guiding but when I'm fishing too. I know the water well and I know the fish are there but they are simply not biting.
As a young boy I was either playing baseball or fishing in a small creek behind my house. As were all of the kids in the neighborhood in those days. What I noticed was that when the fish weren't biting the other kids started to throw rocks or play in the creek but I didn't. At least not right away. I always wanted to catch fish when no one else was. That hasn't change I still like to catch fish when the bite is off.
As a guide I always do my best to give the client a good day on the water. Which of course includes catching fish. Doesn't take long to sense that the bite is off. Now that can mean several things. One - the strikes are soft, we are rolling fish or getting head shakes but can't keep them on the hook. I immediately switch to smaller flies and that sometimes can make a difference. Or Two - the fish are simply not biting.
Before I start changing flies I will add split shots, adjust the strike indicator and correct any mistakes my client is making in his presentation to ensure a drag free drift. I read a great article on patience vs. persistence by Domenick Swentosky on his website Troutbitten. “Patience is waiting for something to happen and persistence is making something happen.”
Another way of putting this is “Think Outside the Box” and when the bite is off and I'm guiding it's definitely time to “Think Outside the Box” and be persistent. I usually start on a certain section of water for a reason. On a summer day I like to hit the quiet pools first before the sun is on the water. Colder early spring or autumn days I like to start where I will be in the sun and later in the day move to the shady pools as the day warms up. But what if I'm in the pool I thought would be the best in the morning but it isn't. Once we are in the beat for awhile I like to move up or down stream to different water. We will not only rest the pool but it will give us different type of water and fish that haven't been fished over yet.
If I start out using nymphs I like using the two nymph set up. Using an attractor fly such as a San Juan worm, squirmy wormy or some sort of egg pattern as the top fly with a go-to nymph such as a size 18 pheasant tail or caddis pupa that can sometimes trigger a strike. I continue to change the bottom fly with an assortment of flashy flies with orange, green, red and even purple bead heads and different color hot spots on the fly. If using 4x tippet, I will drop down to 5x or even 6x.
Many clients have never fished without an indicator so having them high stick a nymph is something different and new for them to learn and can be productive in certain pools. The fly will get down quicker and deeper and it will be a different presentation to the trout.
If still no success underneath I switch to a attractor dry fly such as a hopper or a yellow body Crackle Back dry fly (more on that in a future issue). If there is no interest in the dry fly I can always add a dropper fly such as a soft hackle, beetle or many other options.
Thinking outside the box doesn't mean just using different types of flies. It also means using different types of presentations. Early afternoon is a great time to swing a few wet flies through a nice riff or working them slowly in a deep pool. When was the last time you heard the word wet flies? Old school I guess but they still catch fish.
I always have a fly rod setup with a sink-tip line and a streamer ready to go in hopes of hooking into a good fish who is looking for a bigger meal. A dead minnow or sculpin pattern just dead drifting off the bottom can be a easy meal for a lazy trout. Or dead drift a super bugger with a small nymph as a drop fly off the bugger.
These are a few of the different flies and techniques I try when the fish aren't biting. Weather and water conditions really play a big part in where I fish, what flies I use and what type of presentation will be best.
On a day when my client is catching fish there isn't a need to change techniques or even fly set ups. So on a day when the fish aren't biting, clients can experience some different ways of fly fishing that he/she might not have had the chance to do before.
Trout live in beautiful places and most clients are just happy to be on the water. As the old saying goes “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” So what does a guide do when the fish aren't biting? I work hard, I'm persistent, I think outside the box and I do the best I can to give the client a good day on the water.
If you have any questions or if there is something you’d like to see here, please let me know. I like hearing from our readers.
Hope to see you on the stream.
50 Women Who Fish
This week Wild River Press is releasing Fifty Women Who Fish, of which Cathy is one of the fifty. It is a gorgeous large-format hardcover production of more than 300 pages with hundreds of color photos.
For two full years, author Steve Kantner sought out a wide range of female anglers, extraordinary individuals from ages 20 to 90, from the Florida Keys to Alaska. All are passionate about their favorite outdoor sport and their personal stories are fascinating.
To read more and to order your copy visit: https://www.whywomenfish.com/
The Importance of Proper Position in the Stream
By Phil Monahan
How many times have we all been in this angler's situation? Next time let's remember to change our position and our angle. It might just make the difference needed to hook the fish. Thank you Orvis, Dave, and Phil.